Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Back to Death Valley National Park

We have a tour scheduled at Scotty’s Castle at 1pm and so we had another early morning day.  At this point, we know we will not be able to see everything that makes this National Park so special, but we want to fit everything in that we can.

We start off with the short 2.5 mile loop: “Twenty Mule Team Canyon”.  It twists and turns through a canyon that almost makes us feel like we are on another planet.   It was really a very moderate drive.  We stopped for several pictures and to relish this area, that is unlike anything we have seen before.

We moved on to “Dante’s View”.  The top is over 5,000 feet above the floor of Death Valley.  From this viewpoint we were able to see for miles.   It had a paved road to the top and a great parking area—so there was very little walking involved here…just seeing the magnificent view.   We met and had a nice visit with a couple on the top.  They were members of Saddleback Church that we had visited near LA when we were there.  They talked about their time at Death Valley.  It was interesting to us that they spent as much money with 3 Nights at a hotel as we budget for 3 Months at campgrounds (and he said the hotels were “not good at all”).

On our way to our castle tour we made a quick stop at “Ubehebe Crater”.  This crater was formed from a massive volcanic explosion.  The crater is 600 feet deep with very steep walls.  There is a small path around the rim to get a different perspective.  The wind was SO strong when we were at the crater that we could barely stand on the sidewalk—so neither of us was the least bit interested in risking our lives to take a little stroll around a crater.  However, we stood in amazement as several people attempted to walk around.  No one appeared to be finishing.

We also made a quick stop at the Harmony Borax Mill.  Borax mining is a big part of the Death Valley history.  
Borax-Still sold today

The history is very interesting; one of the best, most detailed sites I found about this history is   Borax was very profitably mined in Death Valley until it was discovered in an area that was closer to civilization.  During the mining years the borax was delivered by a 20-Mule Wagon Train that was built specifically for this purpose.   Borax was (and IS still today) sold as a laundry detergent booster.  It has even been suggested to us to use Borax in our black tank.  I read that it is currently used in over 300 products.

We get to Scotty’s Castle in time to enjoy our picnic lunch before the tour.  The tours are given by park rangers dressed in period clothing.  

They tell us antidotes of the unique man, Walter Scott (the castles’ namesake).  Scotty had performed in Buffalo Bill’s “Wild West Show”.  He was a con man who told stories about a rich gold mine he had found in Death Valley.  He got investors to give him money with the promise of wealth and fame.   One of his investors, Albert Johnson, came to visit the “mine” and check on his investment; only to find it was all a fraud.  As unlikely as it seemed, Albert and his con-man, now friend, Scotty developed a lifelong friendship.  Albert brought his wife, Bessie, to this wilderness and built her the castle.  This castle had all the modern amenities that a couple of their status and wealth would want or need—electricity, indoor plumbing—including hot and cold water and all the comforts within their new home.  The castle became a tourist attraction in its own right—drawing rich visitors from around the country.  The Johnson’s loved the beauty and tranquility of the desert and now they had the luxury also.  They also found laughs and entertainment in their new friend Scotty. 

In the end I would say, Death Valley is so much more than the name.  It is a land of extremes, it is a land of contrast… but mostly it is a land of beauty and we cannot wait to come back to.

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